As the COVID – 19 gives rise to the paradigm shift in the socio-political, economic and religious activities of people globally, the Willie Obiano led administration is not resting on its oars to ensure that ndi Anambra stay safe and alive. Chief Maja Umeh, former Commissioner of Information in Anambra State, in this interview with IJEOMA EKWOWUSI spoke on the effects of the pandemic in the state, applauding the state government on the recent new burial laws of the state, among others. Excerpts:
HOW has the coronavirus pandemic affected the socio-political terrain in Anambra State?
As a pandemic, it has taken its toll at the international, national and of course, the state level. And places in the couple of months have been battling with this scourge. Our socio-political life has come to zero, more or less because there has been one incessant lockdown phase or the other and one discovers that socialising has become a problem and without it, how can you be talking about political terrain?
It locked up the whole world, it slowed down the whole world; slowed down everything and of course, it has its own economic impact. When these two are slowed down, then, economic impact becomes inevitable. It has taken its toll on the socio-political life of our people but then, it is global. What it has done is, it has introduced a new normal where there will be a general shift in paradigm of what used to be, to what we now see; to what people like to refer to as the general normal.
For instance, a lot of things that has come with it just like the COVID -19 protocols have come to stay with us. What the whole world is doing now is learning to live with the pandemic until someone comes up with a cure or solution to the problem. It has really taken a toll on our people; their economy, their socio-political life.
People no longer go to places where they usually meet others, schools are closed down, markets have just reopened and people have minimised their interactions with one another be it in the church and all social gatherings. It is an unfortunate situation-one of those trying moments of the world. But we are hoping that together, we will battle it and get over it.
You have maintained an enviable position as a cultural ambassador in Anambra State. The New Yam Festival, burial ceremonies that are pending, how do you suggest to the government to handle the issues arising?
First of all, life before any other thing .All these cultural festivals, burial celebrations and all others are for the living. You have to be alive to celebrate them. And the way to be alive is that you don’t contract COVID-19 and for you not to contract that, so far measures have been put in place; the four protocols of washing of hands and sanitisation, social distancing and wearing of face mask.
Those things are very important and any circumstance that will make you compromise this thing is unhealthy for you if you expose yourself to any condition that will not protect you from catching this disease.
Like I said earlier, celebration is for the living; you do everything to stay alive. Observe the protocols to stay alive. Coming to the social events of funerals and all that, it is a very wonderful thing we have enjoyed over the years. With the new narrative of insecurity arising from social gatherings; is about time we reviewed it and people should be mindful not to go to ceremonies where they cannot maintain social distancing or where general COVID – 19 protocols are not observed.
Some state governments have these laws about the number of people that should gather in a funeral and all that. Those things are necessary. They are aimed at making us stay alive until a permanent solution is found.
Again, if you look around what is happening in the state right now, I have been to a couple of social gatherings, the compliance of both the COVID – 19 laws and directives and the new found mini enacted Anambra State Burial Law needs to be looked into again by the state government.
My experience is that that law needs further wider consultations because right now, people are reacting to it negatively. The compliance is becoming a problem, especially areas where it didn’t take interest of the religious beliefs of the people. There are atheists and the state is supposed to be a secular state. And why do you make law as if everybody is a Christian. I am a Christian but the state is a secular one.
I don’t think the state captured the interest of the atheists and I think it is part of the things that the government is supposed to go to the drawing board for. They have to call for a wider town hall meeting with a view to amendment of that Anambra State Burial Law. It is very important.
They are issues that people are now seeing the practice as a problem. In my village, people are asking why people will be registering deaths with N1, 500. Is the government mocking people? These are the things they have to meet with the people and find a middle road approach to it. Little issues like that; government goes into capturing whether people have paid clearance with their villages and all that.
What is government business with that? Somebody who has been ostracized by his community, how do you get him to get cleared on that?
It means you ostracized him in life and in death. I don’t think that should be business of government whether they clear in the church or in the village. That should be the commitment they take up as people who belong to those societies. If they decide to be church people, they should abide by their law and the church will have to implement or devise their own means of extracting from them when they fault; the same thing as the Umunna.
Everybody doesn’t have to belong to Umunna. It is desirable that everybody belongs but there are people who have had very sad life experiences with Umunna; because they have been oppressed and their lives taken by the same Umunna and when they decide not to have anything to do with them, when they die and when you say no, their children should go and clear with same Umunna. So, they have been punished in death and in life. It doesn’t make sense.
I am using this opportunity to call on the state government to please take a look at that Burial Law because it is becoming difficult to be implemented before people start challenging it. It is for them to go back. There is nothing wrong in going back for a town hall meeting and then, allowing wider consultation for bigger input especially now they have implemented briefly; they are seeing the shortfalls that the law is quite amendable.
But I understand and appreciate the essence of cutting down the cost of burial which I am sure was the principal motive behind the law. I am 100 per cent in support of it. We need to begin to do things more or less as it affects the cost of bringing down the cost of burial. They have all my support.
There are so many abuses of these things here and there which I think was not there in the days of our forefathers. Those restrictions might happen because it always have a way of influencing the youths who may think that this is a way to go but when the government steps in with this kind of law, talk to people and they find a middle road approach, it is not a problem. I endorse that one.
Like it happened in the church sometime where women who newly give birth to children take them to the church for the first time, what we call the outing service of the child, they discovered that it was an opportunity of every wife to demand for new clothes, new shoes, new handbags, among others from their husbands which most of the husbands could not afford. That means so many children were not christened until they were three to four years old. So, some Christian mothers said no to this type of behavior. It is not good. Let us have a common bench mark; that is the poorest of the poor can meet so that religiously in line with our doctrine that once a child is within one and half month, the child is baptised and the christening is done.
To this end, they decided to nip this unscrupulous behaviour in the bud. The white poplin and the normal Catholic Women Organisation (CWO) blue wrapper should be worn. That is to say once you have that uniform, you can have 10 children. Your husband will not lose sleep over christening them. The family will not be rattled; they don’t have to pay any money.
In other words, people had to come together to put their foot down that this is getting wide and we have to stop it. To that extent, I agree with their stepping in as a section of people to put a stop to it but like always, you have to liaise and consult widely with the people so that you do it in such a way that it is in the best interest of everybody.
What is your take on resumption of students in examination classes to prepare them for their exams in the lingering phase of the COVID -19 pandemic?
The problem with this pandemic is that you don’t seem to know when it will end. If you say children don’t go to school, you will lose one year. We can say stay at home but there is no guarantee that in the next five years it will be over. Before you lose a generation, something has to be done.
Like I said earlier, it is better we begin to learn to live with this. That is why the four protocols of COVID-19 is very important. I am not saying that there is a lot of reasonable compliance with it. Since they can go to market together, they might as well stay in class and take WAEC together. Let’s keep praying to God because there is no end in sight; there is really no end.
But we believe God that somehow, all the researches that are going on will help us to get to the end of the pandemic. I think people should get back to their normal lives and of course, the paradigm has shifted and changed, so the new normal will now come in place. I think they don’t lose anything because there is no end in sight.